Last evening after supper, I was alone in the house putting away clean dishes, thinking. Grandma was outside on the patio watching Jeff and the boys toss the football around the backyard. I was drying things and putting them in their places, then loading the dirty supper dishes in the dishwasher, starting to fill it up again as quickly as I’d emptied it — which wasn’t TOO quickly, because I do most everything slowly and deliberately. I was thinking about the upcoming one-year anniversary of Papa’s death.
When Kyle’s basketball skills seemed to slip away from him late last fall and into the winter, I said to Jeff, “He lost his best friend.” He also seemed to struggle with his spelling last year, more than I remember in earlier years, and in the start of this school year, his spelling errors have already caused me to e-mail his teacher to express my concerns and get her thoughts and suggestions. I can’t help wondering if the absence of Papa from his life has affected Kyle’s spelling too. The night that Papa died, Kyle told me through his sobbing, “Everything will be different now!” He was so right; I think losing Papa has affected every part of Kyle’s world.
Kyle has a much closer bond with Grandma than before. This past year, they have clung to one another in their shared grief: Papa’s two best friends, trying to survive without him, day by day, week by week. But Jeff is critical of many things, starting with sports, and I’m critical of some things, including spelling and indications of selfishness, and in a few ways Grandma is critical, too, though more likely to take Kyle’s side than Jeff or I, when he feels he’s been wronged. Papa not only loved Kyle unconditionally, but Kyle knew that Papa loved him unconditionally. He knew that Papa would listen to his complaints and love him anyway, and be patient with him as he tried to grow and learn, and try to teach him how to be better without pointing out his faults and shortcomings.
In a sense, it seems almost idiotic that I’d link Kyle’s problems with spelling to his grief over Papa’s death — and it’s been almost a year; some things are still impacted, surely, but spelling? But as I dried the cups and mugs, I thought about Kyle being eight years old when Papa died. I was about eight years old when the sexual abuse began, and I still struggle with emotions and situations that are linked with thse experiences, even some situations that are completely unrelated to the abuse but remind me of it in a deep, visceral way. Sylvia Plath was eight when her father died, and clearly that loss affected her in countless ways throughout her life. The things that happen in childhood — things that happen to you, around you, and around those people closest to you — sometimes live on as part of you. Especially the world around you when you’re about age eight, old enough to start thinking about ways to stretch your small wings, old enough to start understanding “deep things,” but too young to go far on your own, and still very much a child.
As I stacked the plastic cups together, I cried. It’s been almost a year, and still it breaks my heart when I think of my Kyle, and how the loss of Papa might still be breaking his beautiful little heart.